1. Website Performance
- Page speed – if a website loads quickly, search algorithms see this as a better user experience and a well-managed site
- Page size and delivery – a smaller page size and more efficient delivery are also read as better user experiences – Particularly on mobile, where data capacities may be limited, search engines prioritize this factor heavily
- Mobile optimization – making sure there are no loading errors on mobile, and that clickable elements have adequate space between them is important for mobile usability. Search engines like Google prioritize this particularly heavily for mobile search ranking.
2. Sitemaps and Indexing
- Sitemap created – many companies don’t realize they need to or simply don’t create and submit sitemaps. This is particularly important if you have a complex website, but also if you want your site to appear in search results quickly (such as in the case of a new site or launch campaign)
- Sitemap up to date – having a mechanism to consistently update your sitemap file as your website changes is very important for maintaining search traffic, and leveraging new content towards driving additional search visibility. This can be done via plugins on platforms like WordPress
- Sitemap accuracy – Most sites have issues with their sitemaps, which can often make entire portions of their site invisible to search engines. Making sure you create an accurate sitemap is extremely important. Again, many CMS solutions like WordPress make this pretty simple through third-party plugins. However, they can often have issues with accuracy
- Advanced sitemap – there are a lot of more advanced things you can do with your site map (and many that you need to do if you take on strategies involving multiple domains, internationalization, and matrixed content indexing). I won’t dive in to them too much here, but if you’re site may become large (2,000+ pages or so), it might be worth having a sitemap expert take a look at what you’re building.
3. Content Labeling, Architecture and Depth
- URL naming – having clear names in your page path names (i.e. your URLs) allows search engines to easily read folders on your site and associate them to topics.
- Folder architecture – One of the most common issues I see on small WordPress sites with blogs is using a date-based URL naming structure. This only makes sense if people would potentially search your content based on date (i.e. maybe if you’re a news site or publication, or otherwise producing a high volume or highly time-based content). Using a descriptive URL hierarchy allows people to sort through your content much more naturally, and you can index these category pages to rank on keywords or phrases for topics you write about frequently.
- Content width – the more pages of content you have visible in search crawlers, the larger Google thinks your site is. Moreover, if you can create lots of pieces of evergreen content that can capture small portions of traffic on a long-term basis, over time these efforts can build up into major traction, particularly if keywords are long-tailed (i.e. there isn’t much competitor competition).
- Content depth – If you have a lot of content on a particular topic, search engines like to see that organized. Using descriptive folder and sub-folder names for categories of pages (as mentioned above in the URL naming and folder architecture steps) . The more layers of folders with significant amounts of quality (read: unique and backlinked) pages inside of them, the higher quality of a site search engines will perceive yours to be on particular topics and subtopics
4. Meta Tagging
- Page titles – Giving each page a descriptive title makes it much easier for crawlers, as well as users, to understand what the page is about. Almost all search algorithms use title elements as one of the main matching factors against the search input. Moreover, in Google, words in the page title will be returned in bold if they’re used in the user search query.
- SEO meta descriptions – it’s up for debate as to whether Google actually still directly reads text from search descriptions. It certainly did at one point, and many other search engines still do. It’s well known that it may sometimes override the user-input SEO meta tag, particularly if it’s left blank or appears as HTML-gibberish. But at the very least, SEO meta descriptions are displayed in search results, and Click-Thru Rate of search results is almost certainly a factor in current search algorithms.
5. On Page copy structuring
- Heading and subheadings – for page layouts, it is important to create placements for heading text. Ideally, text over header images or hero images on pages should be HTML heading text (probably h1 or h2 tags) as opposed to part of the image (i.e. you should be able to highlight it with your cursor).
- 300+ words per page – ideally, most pages should contain at least 300 words of copy. If you’ve created a delightful user experience that doesn’t have a need for copy, then this can maybe be ignored. Otherwise, not including copy on your page makes it very difficult for crawlers to understand what topics your page is about
6. SEO Copywriting
- Heading keyword usage – Text in between heading tags (<h1> and </h1>), which range from h1 through h6 in terms of descending importance, is seen as more significant for SEO purposes than copy held in between paragraph tags (<p> and </p>). To this end, it is generally best practice to use high-impact keywords and phrases in heading copy.
- Keyword frequency and usage – using keywords and keyphrase in the page copy makes it clear that the copy on the page is in fact aligned with the url, title, and meta tag the user has input. However, using keywords too many times on a page can look as if you’re trying to use black hat SEO tactics and trick Google into ranking your page higher. This is known as keyword stuffing, and date back to the days when some web developers would attempt to boost their search ranking for certain keywords by hiding them in invisible text in the background of the page. The ideal number of times to use your page keyword or keyphrase in a page is probably about 5.
- Readability – Google in particular scores pages for their readability. There are numerous parameters that go into this, but the core understanding that you need to have here is that the simpler you can make your copy and the shorter you can make your sentences, the better. YoastSEO plugin for WordPress is quite a useful tool for this, as it provides a readability score for pages on your site (although it’s not always reliable).
7. Internal and External Linking
- Structural content linking – your site likely has some portion of it that’s build from a common visual layout template – think pages for individual employees, blog posts, or case studies. Pages that use a similar structure, and are likely all linked to from a common parent or hub page. Ensuring that the images and titles on these hub pages are linked in as many logical places as possible is important for creating solid internal linking throughout your site. In addition, having consistent header and footer menus on your site that link to various important pages can also be very helpful in creating solid internal linking structure.
- Breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs allow users to navigate between layers of content (i.e. a visual representation of the page path that the current page is located in, and links out to higher layers of content such as hub pages or ultimately, the home page. Having breadcrumbs on your site creates more solid internal link structure, and often creates a more engaging user experience by making it easier to navigate through the site.
- Outbound links – while inbound backlinks are generally more talked about, and likely more important from a ranking factor, crawlers also generally like to see sites linking out to other relevant sites. You can effectively think of this link as a citation – and while it is important to be cited (and usually a better measure of popularity and importance), you also need to cite your own sources.
- Inbound banklink domain authority – having a few strong backlinks (read: from significant press, a large company, a university, etc) is almost a barrier to entry to be able to compete on high-traffic keywords. However, the more of these backlinks you can generate to content on your site, the better (particularly if you can achieve a good inbound backlink spread)
- Inbound backlink spread – while having lots of backlinks is great, having them all direct users to a single page of your website suggests to search engines that your home page is interesting, but you don’t have much depth in terms of interesting content. Having a spread of domains with moderate or high authority linking to deeper pages in you site shows that you have expertise on deeper topics than just your brand name. The best way to achieve this link spread is by finding a repeatable piece of valuable content and a corresponding webpage you can produce that you can build a few backlinks off of, and create a process around creating and distributing that effort.
8. Semantic Search Targeting
- Keyword volume – the volume at which web visitors are searching for various phrases has a significant impact on SEO strategy – if users aren’t searching for a keyword or phrase, there’s little point in attempting to rank for it. However, understanding how users search for topics in your sector and industry,and which synonym is used more frequently by your audience can allow you to target your messaging and use keywords more in line with your audience’s search habits. Moreover, if you can find terms that your audience is searching for but your competitors haven’t build content for, building content tailored for these keywords can be a very effective traffic generation strategy.
- Phrase usage – Understanding if users are searching for “costs” or “pricing”, “features” or “benefits”, “how to hire” or “how to outsource” can be very informative in terms of guiding keyword targeting in on page copy, page titles, and meta descriptions.
- Search intent and alignment – the context that users enter terms into search engines can tell a lot about their intent. The phrase “where to purchase [PRODUCT Y]” suggests a customer much later in the purchase cycle than “comparing [PRODUCT Y] to [PRODUCT Z]”
- Internationalization – do you have operations or focuses internationally, or are users searching for your company in foreign languages? If so, it could be worth considering localizing your pages and SEO descriptions for languages that are important to you (using plugins, HREFLANG tags, or manual translation). Moreover, it also might be a good idea to buy international domains (i.e. .co.uk, .ch, .ca, .fr, etc)
9. Keyword Competitiveness
- Competitor content targeting – While many factors of SEO are focused on how you maintain your site, a few are related to how other sites trying to rank for the same keywords as you manage their sites. If a competitor has similar content and website performance to you, who wins out in search ranking may come down to if your competitor has done as good a job of keyword targeting as you have.
- Competitor backlink profile – If you and your competitors have optimized keywords and SEO tags and are still trading the top search position, securing a few significant and unique backlinks could put you over the edge. Or if you can’t seem to catch your competitor, they may have a link you don’t from a top tier news site, or in an academic publication (some of the most powerful and hard to replicate backlinks). It is often a strategy of SEO managers to audit competitor sites for the pages that are backlinking to them and attempt to replicate those backlinks, if possible. This can take the form of posting to a forum, focusing on particular distribution channels, posting in directories, or even contacting a journalist to cover a similar company to one they have in the past.
10. User Interaction
- This is where SEO gets really convoluted, and where even the experts don’t know what they’re talking about. Google has always said that it is gearing it’s algorithms to optimize for end-user engagement. What this really means is they want to deliver the best search results possible to keep users searching on Google (as this is where they can serve their ads and make their revenue). What exactly this translates to in terms of search ranking is a bit unclear. There are rumours that this UX component of the Google search algorithm could be based on click-thru rate, website engagement data from sites with Google Analytics installed (and even that these sites see prioritization in search ranking), and even that these are what the core components of Google’s Machine Learning algorithms have been developed for.